Ever since she could remember the locket had always been there in her mother’s jewellery box. It looked old. She had never seen her mother wearing it. It was silver with a pattern made of dirt. Naturally ornate, curling and curving over its oval figure. It was beautiful. Something to treasure. Something important, judging by its enclosed existence inside its red velvet bed on her mother’s oak dressing table. The clasp was stuck fast so the contents of the locket had always been a secret. It remained a fascination to her in any case, and she’d sit and fold it between her fingers, let it dangle delicately from her hands, spinning and twirling its patterns like a fairy dance.
She remembered hazy dreams when she sneaked through her mother’s creaky bedroom door, not treading on the loose, painted floorboard with her right foot, over the spongy pile of the bedside rug, snugly on her naked feet, to the big oak dressing table. She remembered opening the heavy lid and letting it rest on its hinges, its plush redness inviting her in. The seductive beauty of it. The locket was the first thing she looked for, and the first thing she found. She remembered the click of the clasp as it opened effortlessly. The small yellowing parcel inside, the faded photograph. It told her its story. A sad and frightening story. The pain coursed through the locket’s dirty curves while she listened, and felt. A story she could never forget, but one that she never remembered. For dreams only.
One day her mother found her with the locket and was very angry. Far too angry. It was only a locket; she wasn’t breaking it. Her mother snatched it away from her and took it with her as she left the room full of cross words. The locket didn’t return to the jewellery box for ages after that day. Instead she tried on her mother’s rings of gold and red, playing with the light that sparkled in them. Broaches that creaked when she opened the pin, the years of flint encrusting the hinge, always blue. She made snake nests with the silver chains in the bottom of the box, swirling them round so that they lived. But nothing could enchant her more than that locket, and her time spent with the box grew less and less because of its absence. Until the day of her 13th birthday.
She had a new dress, the colour of shepherd’s delight. Her mother suggested a ring from her jewellery box as her little girl was nearly a grownup now. She hurried up the stairs, her new dress flowing behind her, square heeled shoes clomping on each step. As she lifted the lid and the crimson velvet warmed her eyes she spotted it. The locket. As beautiful as she remembered it some years ago. She took it into her hands, immersed in its ornate dirt, feeling its round edges between her fingers and thumb. She smiled her broadest smile and rushed to her mother, who was wearing her green fruit apron while she prepared butterfly cakes for the party. Her mother turned abruptly at her daughter’s wild excitement as she flung herself round the door, hanging from the frame. She held out the locket to her mother, pleading with her to let her wear it. But instead of seeing her mother’s kind eyes melt into acquiescence, she saw the fearful whites of them twist into uneasy rage.
Her mother shouted at her so loudly that the ringing in her ears lasted until the next week. She thought about what had happened for a long time after. Her mother had said sorry to her, but told her not to touch the locket again – she’d thought she’d hidden it and didn’t know how it ended up back in the jewellery box. It must mean a lot to her. But she never wore it. It wasn’t fair.
She didn’t see it again. Many birthdays passed, and many changes came. The locket nearly faded into nothingness.
Years passed, and new life came. Her mother deteriorated quickly. She did what she could to look after her, visited her every day, taking her granddaughter as a reminder of happiness.
She found her mother one evening, around seven. There was blood where she’d hit her head falling against the big oak dressing table. Her eyes were closed. Sleeping, endlessly. The open jewellery box blazed against the dark wood; the locket wasn’t there.
She cleared the house, apart from the odd bit of furniture. It wasn’t important. As it stood there on that patch of ground with lifeless windows, the house became something to get rid of. But nobody wanted it. So it was just left to fade away.
A squirrel moved in. Holding a fresh acorn between his teeth, he found his way to his stash behind a barren arm chair then scampered his scratchy claws up the abandoned stairs and across the peeling floorboards, over the one that creaked. It snapped in two under his weight, and the broken section lifted and rocked with a tingling squeak. A silver chain hung on its corner, weighted by its oval burden. The ornate pattern danced like dirty snakes as it twisted in the air. Below it, a dusty pine casket peered from the dark hollow, small as a child. A baby. Running from its home’s disturbance, a spider hurried across the small wooden plaque on top of the casket. The dust danced in the stale air. Gold writing glinted in the sunlight, almost as though enjoying the warmth of its rays for the first time in so long.
“Born asleep. Forever remembered.”